Click here to [close]

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Peter Brötzmann Tribute (Day 3 of 3)

Peter Brötzmann. Photo (c) Cristina Marx.

 The final day of our tribute to saxophonist Peter Brötzmann. See day one here and day two here.

Peter Brotzmann/Paal Nilssen-Love Sweetsweat (Smalltown Superjazz, 2008)

As a listener, as someone with deep love for free jazz and improvisation, I owe a lot to Peter Brotzmann and his recordings. In fact I have been a fan of his music for a long time and as an avid collector of physical objects, I came to own a lot of his stuff. To cut a long story short, since a respectable amount of words has been written and published about his work, I realized over the years that apart from his well deserved place in European free jazz and improvisation, two aspects of his choices stand out for me.

First that, even someone like him with an almost mythical status he was really open to work, play and interact with much younger musicians. Secondly, that he was much better (or, at least, this is how I enjoyed his music) in small groupings, especially duos and trios. Combining the aforementioned two (leaving outside the legendary duo with Han Bennink), I choose his later period duo with Norwegian drummer/percussionist, one of the best around, Paal Nilssen-Love. I was lucky to catch them live in 2013 and their sound still resonates in my mind.

In this release, a live recording from 2006, their first together if I’m not wrong, Brotz breaks almost every rule that has to do with the authority of the “big name” or the “soloist” in jazz tradition. Even though his playing is fierce, aggressive and full of energy, as always, he is deeply involved in listening his fellow player-traveler (remember that he always was a soldier of the road), leaving so much room for Nilssen-Love to present his spectrum of ideas in free jazz drumming. Recorded by another great, Frode Gjerstad, the listener gets to feel, clocking in more than an hour, the pathos of the duo, their relentless attack on their instruments. I came to love the tarogato through Brotz’s playing and he clearly transformed it from a Hungarian folk instrument into a woodwind to channel energy into the air.

I believe that it is very difficult, even impossible to reinvent yourself artistically. Peter Brotzmann achieved that –a measure of openness and greatness- making the Brotzmann/Love sax and drums duo one of the most important in free jazz. The music lives forever. 

- Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Joe McPhee, Peter Brötzmann, Kent Kessler, Michael Zerang — The Damage is Done (Not Two, 2009) 

Joining Brötzmann in this quartet are McPhee on trumpet and alto saxophone, Kessler on double-bass, and Zerang on drums. The formation played over several years and had recorded two previous albums: Tales Out of Time (hatOLOGY, 2004) and Guts (Okka Disk, 2006). (Part of their performance at Montreuil, France in 2009 is also featured in the Soldier of the Road Brötzmann documentary (Bernard Josse, 2011)). This 2-CD album consists of two sets in their entirety recorded in the up-close confines of the Alchemia club, Krakow, in 2008.

The band might be considered another subset of the Chicago Tentet, yet like all the groups in which Brötzmann featured it has its own personality, a meeting of voices that produces a distinctive blend. The album is also further evidence of McPhee’s remarkably versatile musical temperament, a facility to attune himself to any surroundings and both fit in and stand out. Here, he underscores, matches, and challenges Brötzmann in an at times intoxicating rapport. This can be heard on the opening title track, a lengthy sojourn where for periods it sounds as if they’re locked in combat during a succession of fiery statements and rejoinders. Elsewhere, they share tranquil reflections, and the piece builds to its conclusion with a merger of quivering saxophones, rapidly bowed bass, and totemic drums. In contrast, ‘Alchemia Souls” is a colourful bricolage in the process of construction, ultimately transformed into rough-hewn refrains.

The names of the four pieces that make up the second set form a longer description, ‘A Temporary Trip / With Charon / On The Acheron / Into The Hades’, illustrated in Brötzmann’s cover artwork. The reference to Greek mythology is retrospective yet there is a sense of a journey of sorts, if not along a river to the underworld then through waters whose currents move between calm and turbulent. Throughout, there’s an astonishing level of intuitive intelligence. All four musicians are able to grasp even small changes in direction and adjust the balance of the narrative flow. We proceed from spare, tentative phrases and Zerang’s roiling percussion, through blaring horns over Arabic beats, then plaintive mourning, and a gradual descent into the maelstrom where wild proclamations ring out. Hades itself is a place of anguish, but despair eventually turns to bitter resolution and a suggestion of hope as Brötzmann announces one of his dignified, touchstone melodies; joined by McPhee they both rise before fading into silence.

Brötzmann’s music embraced lofty ideas, unrepentant in their scale. Alone or with his collaborators he gave voice to the exultation and loss in our lives, and for that we should be grateful.

The quartet from Instants Chavirés in 2009:

- Colin Green

Brötzmann , Adasiewicz, Edwards, Noble - Mental Shake (Otoroku, 2014)

I saw Brötzmann perform with vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz at the 2011 Vision Festival and was blown away. I had never heard such a combination before and the buoyant textures of the vibraphone and intensity of the saxophone left a lasting impression. On Mental Shake, a recording from London's Cafe OTO, free jazz stalwarts bassist John Edwards and percussionist Steve Noble add robust support to Broetzmann and Adasiewicz's sound. In this first time meeting, Noble and Edwards' support is infallible, their contribution on equal footing with the other two and allows the vibraphone to become even more of a harmonic element and for the saxophone to travel even farther afield. Presented as one long improvisation across both sides of the LP, the music waxes and wanes with unexpected melodiousness and breathtaking intensity.  


Ears Are Filled With Wonder - Peter Brötzmann & Heather Leigh

Brötzmann's duo with pedal steel guitarist Leigh provided a new context for him to explore some very exciting new timbres and tones in extended improvisations. There are long stretches where I felt, giddily, that I had absolutely no idea where they would go next. In retrospect, there are indications Brötzmann was maybe not able to hold notes as long or roar as gutturally as before. It's hard to know what's there and what's being imposed. What's beyond a doubt is the albums Brötzmann recorded with Leigh (including a recent trio with Lonberg-Holm) are riveting; they capture Brötzmann in fine form, with as many fresh ideas as when he first arrived on the scene, nearly 60 years ago. Rest well, maestro. 

Peter Brötzmann - I Surrender Dear (Trost, 2019) 

I Surrender Dear is the last solo album of Brötzmann, reflecting his great love for jazz standards. But Brötzmann did not attempt to surrender to straight-ahead improvisations on iconic chord changes, and obviously, he rarely sounds sentimental or nostalgic, or, in his words, was playing “nice music for the people”, still, he sounds intensely emotional and surprisingly peaceful and compassionate. This album captures his complex and wise perspective of jazz and blues legacy and jazz as a living tradition. Jazz for him was an art that can not be codified into strict principles but a revolutionary art that keeps questioning the past and the present, challenging and subverting simple convictions. Brötzmann’s playing in recent years gravitated into lyricism and he often said that he likes to play ballads. Needless to say, his own kind of ballads, sober, painful and thoughtful ballads, and he always was investigating and struggled with the melodic themes of these angry, melancholic ballads with his tough, uncompromising voice. Even when he plays standards like “Lady Sings The Blues” or “Lover Come Back To Me” (sticking only to the tenor sax), it is still free music (Brötzmann never liked the term free jazz). But freedom for Brötzmann was always about the attitude, the same attitude that inspired Louis Armstrong, Art Blakey, or Don Cherry, and not an academic theory. And Brötzmann's reflections on these standards (and one theme of J.S. Bach tell a lot of intimate, sincere and tender stories

- Eyal Hareuveni


Catching Ghosts Brötzmann / Bekkas / Drake (2023)

Catching Ghosts is, I think, the last non-posthumous album of his to have ever been released and it showcases yet another adventure into unknown lands for him to embark in, accompanied by Hamid Drake's expert and always tasteful drumming and Majid Bekkas' soaring vocals and guembri, a beautiful West African instrument whose sound is somewhere in between a double bass and an oud, rhythmic and melodic at the same time, its interplay with the drums the highlight of the album.

Read the full review of Catching Ghosts.

- William Rossi